I know where I went wrong with my chocolate thumbprints, but I still haven’t figured out how it happened. I think I walked through all the usual steps, but of course, I couldn’t have, or I couldn’t have done them properly, because when I got to the one that instructed me to stir in the chopped chocolate, there wasn’t any. I had measured out all the chocolate, but I had put some of it in the wrong place: Instead of some being melted and some chopped, all of it had gone into the pot to melt and then into the dough. It was too late to do anything about it. The dough was made, and while it was a little softer than my original recipe, it looked good. When I nibbled a pinch, it tasted good.
And so, just as Julia would have, I carried on, even if, unlike Julia, I second-guessed myself every minute that the dough was chilling in the fridge. But I stopped fretting the instant I started working with the dough. It wasn’t that it was perfect or that I was sure the cookies would be fine — it was that making something with my hands settles me. The more hands-on the recipe, the better. It’s baking as mindful movement. Baking as magic. And that day, as I made the thumbprints, I realized something that tickled me: As adorable as the name “thumbprints” is, it’s a bit misleading. It takes every part of your hands to make them.
You start by rolling pieces of the dough around between your palms to get balls. Then you toss each ball in sugar to coat it. I like coarse sugar for this so that you get a smidge of roughness — it’s nice to pop another texture into the mix — and I often use sanding sugar, because a bit of sparkle is always good. Finally, you make the namesake thumbprint. You can get a perfectly even indentation if you press a cork into the center of the dough, and you can get an imperfect, personal print if you use your thumb or index finger. It wasn’t until after I had shaped and sugared the dough and given each little ball a poke in its middle that I remembered that the dough was “wrong.” I sent the cookies into the oven with the hope that the heat would right them. And it did. That chocolate mistake made a cookie that was fudgier than my original and as deeply flavorful as devil’s food. The texture was lovely, the sugar on the outside firming the crust and giving the soft cookie something to play against. I filled some of the thumbprints with jam and some with a few different kinds of chocolate, and they were all beautiful, all better than I had hoped and all good enough that my not-right recipe has become my regular recipe.
I was alone in the kitchen when I made the mistake, and yes, if I didn’t tell, no one would know. But telling is what those of us who love food do. It’s how we learn from one another, and I’ve had the privilege of learning from so many people over the five years that I’ve been writing regularly for this magazine, which I’m leaving to focus on my newsletter, xoxo Dorie. As I look back on my time here, I see how extraordinary it was and how lucky I’ve been: I got to do some telling, but I got to learn so much more. I’ll always be grateful for this.
Recipe: Double-Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Dorie Greenspan is an Eat columnist for the magazine. She has won five James Beard Awards for her cookbooks and writing. Her new cookbook is “Baking With Dorie.” She writes the newsletter xoxo Dorie.